Enrolment for postgraduate courses in public universities has rebounded and grown by 33 percent, easing financial pressure on the institutions that are already struggling with strained cash flows following a dip in undergraduate student numbers and State funding.
Data released by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) on Thursday shows that 43, 988 students are currently pursuing masters and PhD courses in the year to June, up from 32, 977 learners in a similar period last year.
The growth is a recovery from last year when postgraduate enrolment dipped 51 percent, which was the first drop in more than 15 years.
Universities are promoting the courses in a bid to grow their revenues, hit by the sharp drop in the number of students pursuing the parallel degree courses, whose fees are based on market rates.
This has seen top institutions like University of Nairobi freeze hirings and expansion plans as they struggle with huge debts.
Postgraduate enrolment grew on the back of acquiring a masters degree that many viewed as a ticket for promotion at the work place and getting a job in an economy generating fewer formal jobs and gaining promotion at the work place.
Masters and PhD students increased by 317 percent in the five years to June 2017, putting pressure on university facilities like lecture halls and libraries as well as lecturers in a market with a high tutor to student ratio.
The University of Nairobi recorded the biggest jump in postgraduate enrolment, adding 1, 877 students to 12, 234 followed by Maseno University that added 1, 144 learners.
Moi University saw the number of Masters and PhD students drop to 510 from 2, 556 the previous year while Egerton registered a marginal fall to 195 learners from 206. The shift in enrolments comes at a period when undergraduate student numbers in public universities dropped by 56,988, marking the first drop in 21 years on the reduction of parallel degree programme students
KNBS data shows that university enrollment declined to 382,971 in the year to June from 439,963 recorded a year ago — making this the first fall since the academic year that ended in June 1998. Admission to public universities of nearly all students who scored C+ and above in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education examination over the past three years has reduced the pool of learners available for private universities as well as parallel degree programme students in public universities.
The self-sponsored students had over the past two decades been a key source of revenue for the institutions since they paid multiple times what the rest of the students did.
This cut the cash flow of universities such as the University of Nairobi , which announced cost cutting plans to keep afloat.
Since 2016, several campuses have been closed across the country after lower entry grades cut student numbers, adversely affecting the lucrative parallel degree programmes for which students paid fees based on market rates. Fees in parallel degree programmes peaked at nearly Sh500,000 annually for courses like medicine and pharmacy.
Fees for regular students remained unchanged for more than two decades at about Sh26,000 annually while fees for a two-year Masters course would cost nearly Sh300, 000.